Great talent doesn’t require a big budget

NOV. 11 UPDATE: The commercial is now completed and uploaded to Doritos’ website. You can check it out here (just wait for Doritos to load all their promo animation). Let me know what you think or comment directly on the site.

For the past week, several of my most talented friends have spent more than 12 hours each doing corporate advertising work … for free.

It’s a pretty good deal if you’re the company we’re working for.

That company is Doritos, arguably the first major brand to fully grasp and trust in the power of user-generated content. This is the fourth-consecutive year the chip maker has entrusted the mighty responsibility of creating Super Bowl ads to everyday consumers. With a Monday deadline looming, there are already more than 600 entries uploaded to Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl site.

We’ll soon be joining that group, once my 8-person team completes some final edits on our 30-second spot. Putting together a quality submission required hours of brainstorming ideas, an evening of auditions for actors, a full day of set-up and filming, a couple of late nights in the editing suite, and a two-hour reshoot this evening.

Unless our ad is picked as one of the top six, we won’t be paid a dime for that work.

But there’s still ample self-incentive. The top six each get a $25,000 prize. The best of that bunch get the fame of airing during this season’s Super Bowl, with the possibility of millions more in prizes depending on how the ad is rated by viewers.

To poor grad students, this is a substantial amount, certainly enough to justify hours upon hours worth of labor. To Doritos, it represents just a pittance of what it would cost to hire a professional advertising agency, with no guarantees the company would even like the final product.

By going the user-generated route, Doritos’ marketing executives are only paying for the content they like. What’s more, they’re tapping into a groundswell of underground talent and creativity that’s eager and willing to take a shot at fame. The high price of technology was once a barrier of entry for amateur filmmakers like the ones making spots for Doritos. Now all the basic software and equipment is affordable without having to own an entire production studio.

It’s not like the winning entries have suffered in comparison to their big-budget counterparts. Take the 2007 winner, the first year of the contest. It’s by no means as polished as most network TV ads, but it’s a funny concept that executed with a lo-fi charm.

The following year, the winning entry (the one posted above) featured an absurdist form of comedy that for my money was among the very best of all Super Bowl ads, easily topping many that cost $1 million or more to produce. The slapstick comedy of the 2009 winner wasn’t as much to my tastes, but it proved immensely popular with viewers.

These ads prove that it doesn’t take millions in expensive equipment to produce an effective ad. The companies willing to trust consumers to produce content — not just in advertising but in news and entertainment — have opportunities to save millions of dollars through tapping talent that for years was stuck in a dormant state.

Now this talent is active and thriving thanks to technology. High-dollar professional agencies, take note. And be warned.

  1. Wow I love it, hope you win!!

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